Saturday, March 12, 2011

The adaptive unconscious

The adaptive unconscious is a set of mental processes influencing judgment and decision making, in a way that is inaccessible to introspective awareness. This conception of the unconscious mind has emerged in cognitive psychology, influenced by, but different from, other conceptions such as Sigmund Freud's.

The adaptive unconscious is distinguished from conscious processing in a number of ways, including being faster, effortless, more focused on the present, and less flexible.
Although research suggests that much of our preferences, attitudes and ideas come from the adaptive unconscious, subjects themselves do not realize this: they are "unaware of their own unawareness".

William Benjamin Carpenter MD CB FRS (1813 –1885) was an English physician, invertebrate zoologist and physiologist.
Carpenter's most famous work is the 1853 Use and Abuse of Alcoholic Liquors which was one of the first temperance books (Washingtonian Movement) to promote the fact that alcoholism is a disease.
Carpenter is considered as one of the founders of the modern theory of the adaptive unconscious. Together with William Hamilton and Thomas Laycock they provided the foundations on which adaptive unconscious is based today. They observed that the human perceptual system almost completely operates outside of conscious awareness. These same observations have been made by Hermann Helmholtz. Because these views were in conflict with the theories of Descartes, they were largely neglected, until the cognitive revolution of the 1950s. in 1874 Carpenter noticed that the more he studied the mechanism of thought, the more clear it became that it operates largely outside awareness. He noticed that the unconscious prejudices can be stronger than conscious thought and that they are more dangerous since they happen outside of conscious.

He also noticed that emotional reactions can occur outside of conscious until attention is drawn to them: "Our feelings towards persons and objects may undergo most important changes, without our being in the least degree aware, until we have our attention directed to our own mental state, of the alteration which has taken place in them."

He also asserted both the freedom of the will and the existence of the Ego.
Sir William Hamilton, 9th Baronet (1788 –1856) was a Scottish metaphysician.
By far his most important work was "Philosophy of the Unconditioned," the development of the principle that for the human finite mind there can be no knowledge of the Infinite. The basis of his argument is the thesis, "To think is to condition."
Hamilton laid down the principle that every object is known only in virtue of its relations to other objects. From this it follows limitless time, space, power and so forth are humanly speaking inconceivable. The fact, however, that all thought seems to demand the idea of the infinite or absolute provides a sphere for faith, which is thus the specific faculty of theology. It is a weakness characteristic of the human mind that it cannot conceive any phenomenon without a beginning: hence the conception of the causal relation, according to which every phenomenon has its cause in preceding phenomena, and its effect in subsequent phenomena. The causal concept is, therefore, only one of the ordinary necessary forms of the cognitive consciousness limited, as we have seen, by being confined to that which is relative or conditioned.
The transition from philosophy to theology, i.e. to the sphere of faith, is presented by Hamilton under the analogous relation between the mind and the body. As the mind is to the body, so is the unconditioned Absolute or God to the world of the conditioned. Consciousness, itself a conditioned phenomenon, must derive from or depend on some different thing prior to or behind material phenomena.

Thomas Laycock (1812-1876) was an English neurophysiologist who was a native of York. Laycock is remembered today for his concept concerning the reflex action of the brain, and from this standpoint he postulated that a reflex was an intelligent, but unconscious reaction to stimuli. He believed that although the brain was an organ of consciousness, it was still subject to the laws of reflex action, and in this regard was no different than other ganglia of the nervous system. Laycock also had a fundamental belief in the unity of nature, and saw nature as working through an unconsciously acting principle of organization.

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